How good gut health helps with allergies

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Naturopathic medicine has traditionally linked digestive health to the overall health of a person. Now there’s increasing evidence to suggest that the bacteria in our digestive tract may play a role in managing and reducing the risk of allergies in some people.

How gut bacteria assists health and allergies

The human gastrointestinal tract is composed of approximately 400 different species of “good” bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive system.1 They’re also involved in the development and function of the immune system, the production of vitamin K and help protect against microorganisms that can cause illness. The delicate balance of flora in the digestive tract can be disrupted by a course of antibiotics or other digestive problems, which may impact on various areas of health.

Upsets to the gut bacteria may contribute to immune‐related disorders such as allergies, which are an immune response or overreaction to substances that are usually not harmful. Allergic conditions include eczema, hayfever and food allergies. There appears to be an association between the bacterial populations of infants and their risk of developing allergies in childhood. One study showed that reduced bacterial diversity, 12 months after birth, was associated with an increased risk of allergy sensitivities and allergic rhinitis (hayfever) in the first six years of life.2

Probiotics and allergies

Probiotics are types of “good” bacteria, similar to those found in the digestive system, which can help maintain or restore microbial balance in the digestive tract. There have been many studies of probiotics and results indicate that probiotics show promise in reducing the risk of eczema and cow’s milk allergies, when taken by mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding.1 In addition, probiotics were shown to alter the way that immune cells react to pollen in people with hayfever.3 Another study found that probiotic supplementation improved quality of life in hayfever sufferers and eye symptoms when taken alongside conventional treatment.4

How can I maintain gut health?

To support gut health and a healthy population of gut bacteria:

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in processed foods.
  • Increase intake of probiotic rich yoghurt and fermented foods such as kimchi, tempeh, miso and sauerkraut.5
  • Consume prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are ‘fuel’ for good bacteria and can assist their growth and activity. Good sources include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, artichoke and asparagus.5
  • Reduce stress, which can have a negative impact on gut flora.6 Try stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi or deep breathing.
  • Consider a probiotic supplement, especially after a course of antibiotics.

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Published November 28, 2014
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